In 2009, Ronimo Games (the same people behind the amazing Awesomenauts) released Swords and Soldiers, ostensibly a real time strategy (RTS) game, but closer in fact to being a cross between RTS and tower defense (TD). The game, released on WiiWare, was enough of a success that it prompted remakes on other consoles and even on smartphones. 6 years later, and we finally have the sequel, named the same except with the “II” appended to it to let us know it’s not the same game as the first. I grab my viking helmet (no horns), Persian cutlass, and go demon hunting to bring you this review.
In the original game, the vikings were arrayed against armies of Aztecs and imperial Chinese. This time, the foes have been switched with Persians and demons, allowing for new scope in puns and other sorts of humor. Oh, and units. Of course. The story itself is fun nonsense, and is just there to string the single-player missions together.
Gameplay itself hasn’t changed much from the original. It’s a sidescrolling, beautifully drawn and animated 2D strategy game. Your army starts on one side, and the opponents on the other. The TD influences show when you discover that you can’t directly control many of your units at all. They obey the “go right until you run into something you can hit in the face” rule. The rest of the game is far more RTS and much of the strategy comes in the form of building units, upgrading units, and gathering resources in the forms of gold and mana. There’s also the occasional building you have to create, but it’s not as central to the game as most top-down RTS games. Your direct intervention comes into play when casting spells on the battlefield, and these range from simple healing spells for your own units to powerful meteors that bombard the enemy. And the glory of the strategy is that for every unit the enemy throws at you, there’s at least one counter-unit that you can send its way–provided you have the money, of course. The single player campaign will set you back about 7 to 10 hours; more if you’re going for all the objective-based medals (of which each level has three). The medals range from finishing the levels in a particular time to defeating a specified number of enemies by the close of the stage and so forth. Unless you’re a veteran of the original series, be warned: getting all the medals in the game is HARD.
The game is controlled almost entirely with the Wii U Gamepad. There are two methods of control: touch screen or buttons. I personally preferred the button method, but I did attempt both. If you venture into multiplayer, then the second player controls the game with a Wii Remote. I saw no support for the classic controller or the Pro Controller.
Swords and Soldiers II features local multiplayer, but no online battling. The game also provides you with an AI foe to battle against in Skirmish mode, allowing you to remix the units to take advantage of each race’s strengths. Wish the demons had the persians’ djinn cannon? Go ahead. Make the game as unfair as you like and try your luck. Once you’re fairly familiar with the game and all the units, Skirmish mode is a hell of a lot of fun to tinker with just to see what works and what doesn’t.
To playtest local VS mode, I summoned a friend over to have a go. One player plays on the Wii U Gamepad while the other uses the TV. I’d like to say that we cheated by looking at each other’s screens, but frankly the mere act of looking up diverts your attention from what your units are doing and once you’ve lost track of what’s happening, you might as well throw in the towel. That being said, it’s a hell of a lot of fun; even more so than Skirmish mode. My friend was a pretty quick learner (or I’m a rubbish player), and by the third go around he was soundly thrashing me. I handed in my strategy-gamer card with much shame.
I’ve learned long ago that cutesy visuals can be deceptive, and this is oh so true of Swords and Soldiers II. The game may LOOK cute, but it gets difficult quickly. In fact, by the second or third stage you’re going to have to think carefully about your unit deployment strategies and how to best get a defense going so that your base doesn’t fall to attack. The fact that there are occasionally multiple paths through a level also means that you have to keep an eye on which path the enemy might take. There’s a lot to manage, even without scrolling back and forth to manage rolling out units on one side and blasting enemies with spells on the other while healing your main attack force in the middle. It gets incredibly frenetic at times, and you’re seldom afforded the luxury of just sitting around and watching the action—unless you’ve gone and mismanaged your resources, of course.
I found Swords and Soldiers II a lot of fun, if a bit difficult at times. It’s a brilliant multiplayer game, making me wish that there were some sort of online component to the game. It’s not without its minor problems, however, but they’re definitely easy to overlook. The price tag may be a bit daunting, but it’s easily the best strategy game on the Wii U. Plus it has vikings. Who doesn’t like vikings?
Final Score: 7.5 berserk prawns out of 10
Developer: Ronimo Games
Publisher: Ronimo Games
Platform: Nintendo Wii U (eShop digital download)
Age Rating: Teen